Civil rights groups are asking an appeals court to reinstate a case alleging Transportation Security Administration agents “frisked, handcuffed, arrested and detained” a woman for 18 hours for criticizing some agents.
The Rutherford Institute says it and other groups have filed an appeal with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the case of Nadine Pellegrino.
A lower court decision granted virtual immunity to TSA agents “who engage in official misconduct” by saying that they cannot be sued.
The institute said that in July 2006, Pellegrino was randomly selected by a TSA officer for additional screening after passing through a metal detector at Philadelphia International Airport.
“As an officer began rummaging through her bags, Pellegrino complained that the officer was not treating her or her bags with respect and asked for a private screening,” Rutherford said. “After directing Pellegrino to another room, three TSA officers again began searching both her belongings and her person. Pellegrino complained that the officers were treating her belongings too rough and were being unnecessarily invasive by searching and reading out her credit cards, counting her coins, rifling through her papers, and examining her cosmetics. Pellegrino informed the TSA supervisor who was present that she intended to file a complaint about the officers’ actions.
“After completing their search, and refusing Pellegrino’s request that they repack her bags, two of the officers reported Pellegrino to the police, claiming that she had assaulted them by striking them with her bags as she was removing them from the room. The police frisked, handcuffed and arrested Pellegrino, taking her to the police station and holding her for 18 hours. She was eventually charged with 10 crimes, all of which were dismissed or found not to be sustained by the evidence. Pellegrino then brought civil claims against the agents and the United States for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.”
Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said placing TSA agents in the nation’s airports “didn’t make us safer.”
“It simply subjected Americans to invasive groping, ogling and bodily searches by government agents. Now the government wants to extend immunity to TSA agents for official misconduct,” he said. “Frankly, the last thing we need is for the government to give itself and its agents, especially the TSA, free rein to abuse the law. We’d be far better off if government officials understood that there are consequences for wrongdoing on the job.”
Rutherford said that while the Federal Tort Claims Act “makes the government liable for the intentional misconduct of ‘investigative and law enforcement officers,’ the courts ruled that TSA agents are not ‘investigative and law enforcement officers’ because they are not involved in criminal law enforcement.”
The new court filing contends the decision “leaves victims of intentional misconduct by TSOs without any remedy in tort and, combined with this court’s decision in Vanderklok v. United States … no legal remedy at all.”
The filing also asserts that the earlier decision “failed to consider or follow Supreme Court and Third Circuit decisions.”
The fact that the earlier decision said screeners do administrative, not criminal, searches, is irrelevant, the appeal contends, “as both criminal and non-criminal searches are subject to the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement.”
“The government cannot have it both ways. Either TSA screeners are, in the Pellegrino majority’s framing, ’employees’ whose role is limited to conducting administrative searches … or they are, as this court held … “officials’ or ‘agents’ empowered to investigate potentially criminal conduct.”
Travelers currently have no remedy for even the intentional misconduct of screeners.
The file cites cases in which an agent pulled down a woman’s shirt, exposing her breasts in a public area, and two TSA officers in Denver groped men.
WND has reported on the invasive body scanners that revealed nude images of passengers and the many charges of agents touching passengers’s private parts.